As a wedding photographer, every so often I’m involved with more than just the day of the wedding. More than just what happens on my side of the camera. More than just the photographs. Every so often, I get asked to help put a plan in action. The end of year holidays are always filled with plans and parties and surprises, and this past year there was one surprise in particular that still makes me smile! As the sun set over the edge of Southern California, I helped one of my 2014 grooms set up his proposal spot. I had spent the afternoon picking up the pieces for the simple proposal that he wanted and I arrived with the goods just before sunset. I stashed the ring and flowers underneath six balloons then hid behind some neighboring rocks. And waited.

Within a few minutes I could hear the couple giggling their way toward the “spot”. Oh look, someone is having a party!” I peeked over the top of the rock to see Hannah pointing at the balloons. Alex reached out and pulled her closer to him and started to talk in a soft, low register that could only convey love. I leaned to my left and took a few photos, making sure to give them plenty of privacy. Eventually, he dropped to one knee and right there and then, Hannah became the future Mrs. Gerbrandt. Big smiles all around. In fact, I’m smiling again just thinking about it. Later this year, my privilege will extend past the proposal and onto the wedding day. I am so excited they chose me to record their wedding day in photographs. Three cheers to Hannah and Alex!

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After the proposal, the families of Alex and Hannah congratulated the couple with toasts and dinner at Hannah’s parents home. Twas a night of hugs, champagne, showing off the ring, lots of laughter and Hannah’s perfect way of telling stories. Cleek Family Photo_0026 Cleek Family Photo_0027 Cleek Family Photo_0028

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The huddle. It’s a girl thing. A group is hanging out and someone pulls out their phone, taps on the camera and boom – everyone huddles into each other. Faces squished together, big smiles, say cheese…click! It’s a great moment. Everyone looks fantastic – except for the two on the end. Right? How does that happen almost every time? Now let me say up front that I don’t love the current obsession with plastic skin, photoshopped bodies and this obscene desire for perfection. A woman’s value isn’t found in her flawless skin or her perfect body. But can I let you in on a secret? Sometimes the camera lies. That’s right… the old saying is true, the camera can put on 10 pounds. Or 20. Knowing how to stand in front of a camera can help you look like you really are.

So back to the huddle. Those two huddle-ends really can get the wrong end of the stick. In an attempt to make themselves more a part of the group, they end up added a good 10 to 20 pounds to their frames. Totally discouraging. I recently had a family session where I noticed the huddle-end issue. Yes, it can even happen to a group of three sisters. I snapped a quick photo and then helped them stand in a more flattering light. From there, they could smile, laugh, hug, and squeeze in without having to worry about the camera telling lies!

If you ever find yourself at either end of the huddle, here are a few pointers for keeping true to size:

1. Press your bodies close together. It may feel a little awkward, but any space between each person is translated in the image as a part of a body. Generally, the space just makes the end person look bigger. Get in close with your whole body, don’t just lean with your neck and shoulders.

2. Keep your body in line with everyone else’s. The temptation in the huddle is to curve toward the camera in a U shape. I think we do this because we feel like we have to “get in the frame” but in reality, being closer to the camera only makes you look bigger. Closer = bigger. So take a step back. Maybe take two. Slip a little behind your neighbor. You’re still in the photo, I promise.

3. Don’t squish your face too much. In a group photo, squishing your face into your neighbors face shows that you’re friends…it also leaves a giant space on the other side and can alienate your neighbor or make your body look disproportionate. The brain is used to seeing the head at the center of the body. At first glance of the photo, the viewers brain will think your head is still relatively central to your body, even when you’re leaning in. It assumes that your body weight is proportional on both sides of the head and voila…you just made yourself look twice your size. Craziness.

And there you go… the better way to do the huddle! Happy snapping. :)

The Better Huddle


I photograph a lot of young families. It’s wild and fun with little children running around and playing and saying hilarious things. Creating images of families is a joy I would happily exhaust myself over! We talk a lot about young families in our culture and it seems to me that the struggles and joys of having babies, toddlers and elementary aged children often overshadow talk of the grown up family. How many TV shows about families end when the children grow up and leave home? As a child of the 90’s, I can think of my fair share of TV families who disappeared when they had grown up. Children grow older and get jobs, go to college, move out of state, get married or have their own children. The young family becomes a grown up family and things change.

The biggest change for the grown up family, are the miles that separate. It may be a few miles to the next town, or it may be several thousand miles across the country, but grown up families rarely live together in the same home. It takes time, money and sometimes a lot of planning to get the whole family back together. For the Cleek Family (below), three of their four children live in different states. One daughter is married, two are away for college and while the baby boy is still at home, they are clearly a grown up family. This year, after several Christmases separated, they all made it home to the Central Valley for the holidays. That’s a big deal. It’s such a big deal that they wanted some nice images of them all together without one of them in wedding attire. (Holidays and weddings have a way of bringing families together).

So there we all were, on a bridge in the middle of a park, celebrating the grown up family – Mom and Dad Cleek, four children and two add ons. This family may be separated by miles, but they are joined by love. Enjoy these photos then pick up the phone and call someone from your family. Your grown up family is still a family. :)

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Btw, I spent the last 15 miuntes listening to Jackie (below) sing…she has an amazing voice. You can listen to her here: Family Photo_0010 Cleek Family Photo_0011 Cleek Family Photo_0012

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